Humanist hope

December 17, 2007

Please visit our podcast page if you missed Joe Chuman’s recent address, “If there is no god, from where do we get our hope?” Joe’s address was extremely popular and should be required listening by all those who doubt or reject the answers that traditional religion gives to the great questions of life; because yes, there is hope for us yet.

I [heart] Project Gutenberg

December 14, 2007

When I’m sick I’m usually furthest from any “I [heart] Humanity” state of mind. But this time I have been availing myself of the wonderful work of the volunteers at Project Gutenberg, specifically their audio books. It’s a blessing to be able to lie in bed and listen to philosophy, novels, history, even quirky old how-to books, thanks to volunteers from all over–a South Carolina accent for one book, a Canadian accent for another. . . . Behind one reader’s voice I can hear every now and then a car passing in the street, wherever he lived. I’m thankful for the authors, all now long gone (and thus their works out of copyright), for the organizers of Project Gutenberg, and for the people reading to me from all over the world. If you like reading aloud, you can be a volunteer, too, and make the day of someone who may be sick, or sight-impaired, stuck in traffic, or just going for a jog.

Poor skeptic

December 13, 2007

I have a cold and my head feels like someone is trying to inflate it with a bicycle pump, so I can’t blog intelligently for a few days. However, I pass on this link from Don B-W to a great Onion piece on the sad life of a skeptic.

Now I’m going back to bed. BTW, I’m taking zinc because double-blind studies confirm it actually does help shorten a cold.

New AEU Dialogue

December 11, 2007

The Winter 2007 Dialogue newsletter of the American Ethical Union is now available. Check out Joe Chuman on Darwin and religion, Boe Meyerson on Ahmadinejad at Columbia University, a report from the Religious Education Conference, and much much more to make you think and mark your calendars.

Happy Green Hanukkah

December 4, 2007

Happy Hanukkah to all whose celebrations begin tonight. Like many traditions, many forms of Judaism are in a process of “greening,” embracing environmental activism as a natural outgrowth of their values. For ideas on how to use Hanukkah as a time to re-commit yourself and your community to a sustainable future, check out the green menorah covenant.

The Pope's hope

November 30, 2007

Yahoo news today says the Pope is attacking atheism, but it sounds more like he’s attacking Marxism. However, he did say “Let us put it very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.”

This presumptuous-sounding statement can be made true with one simple clarification: “Let us put it very simply: [this] man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.”

If only each of us could learn to speak for his- or herself in religious matters–even in the third person–and not presume to know the inner life of others.

For those actually interested in the inner life of atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc., a week from Sunday, the Ethical Society of St. Louis will be visited by Dr. Joe Chuman, Leader of the Ethical Society of Bergen, New Jersey. Joe’s address is titled “If There Is No God, From Where Do We Get Our Hope?” If you’re not in the area, check our podcasts page in a couple weeks to hear the address.

Tomatoes and Truth

November 29, 2007

One of the biggest problems in making ethical decisions is figuring out what the real facts are and who is telling the truth. An example from today’s NY Times: Eric Schlosser, author of Fast-Food Nation, has an op-ed criticizing the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange for telling its members that they should ignore the extra-penny-a-pound deals made recently with buyers such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s, deals that were struck to give farm workers better wages. The Growers Exchange claims these deals are somehow illegal, but Schlosser says that Burger King’s refusal to bargain with labor activists emboldened the Growers to renege on their earlier deals.

It’s easy to always assume that greedy big companies are squishing the little people, so to be fair I read the press release of the Growers Exchange, which says they are committed to improving the well being of their employees, and that tomato pickers make over $10 an hour, far above the minimum wage in Florida. That sounds pretty good. But then in another article on the Growers’ site, it says that pickers get paid 40 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes. Granted, I was an English major, but I’m pretty sure that means workers have to pick 800 pounds of tomatoes an hour to make the supposed $10/hr wage. Which seems like a hell of a lot of tomatoes.

But then again I barely passed algebra and I’ve never speed-picked tomatoes. So next I searched for the phrase “How much do tomato pickers get paid?” And I found this article on, in which a diligent journalist sorts through the claims and details to conclude that, well, it depends on a lot of variables, but overall for pickers to make more than minimum wage they have to be lucky and work like dogs, and hope they don’t get a strain or injury because they get no benefits.

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in agricultural labor after this hour or so of reading around, but I do feel more confident in saying that consumers should be commended for pressuring companies into paying a penny more a pound for the tasteless mealy pink things that show up in our fast-food tacos and burgers, and businesses like Burger King and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange should be ashamed of themselves. We should all be boycotting Burger King anyway, ‘cause that stuff will kill you.

Sunday School for Atheists

November 26, 2007

Time Magazine has an article on the Sunday School in Palo Alto, CA, created by Ethical Culture Leader Lois Kellerman a few years ago for an American Humanist Association (AHA) community. A few AHA groups are like Ethical Societies in being community-oriented and having Sunday Schools and youth groups. The program Time describes sounds a little different from our Sunday School for Ethics, in that here we focus more on core ethical values and information about the major world religions, and less on atheism, but certainly atheist families would feel comfortable in an Ethical Society Sunday School or Youth Group. I’m glad to see Time starting to cover religious humanism, and I hope more atheist families can find positive community, especially for their kids.

To find other Ethical Societies with Sunday Schools, see
To find other American Humanist Association Sunday Schools, see

Thanksgiving grace

November 21, 2007

This is how one of our long-time members, Marion Brooks, says grace: “We are thankful for our appetites, this food, the ability to eat and digest it, and for all those persons, near and far, who labor that our needs and some of our wants may be supplied. We are thankful to and for each other and our gathering at this table. May each of us use the fulfillment of our love and fellowship, and the health and energy derived from this food to make our own lives and the lives of other better.” Marion is a woman of great spirit, deep ethical commitment, and no nonsense. May Marion’s words grace your table or inspire your own words. Happy Thanksgiving!

Humanist Network News and Mr. Deity

November 21, 2007

Just in case you’re not spending enough time online, two things worth your time:

Monthly Humanist Network News podcasts, by the Institute for Humanist Studies. Interviews with activists, writers, artists, and others, and answers by their advice columnist Sweet Reason, who gives some of the best advice I’ve heard on topics from how to get along with relatives of different faiths to finding a naturalistic language of reverence.

“Mr. Deity” videos, available on Youtube or through their commercial web site. These 5-minute skits imagine the Biblical god as a not-very-competent CEO–and haven’t many of us wondered if that were really the case? It would explain a lot. I haven’t watched all of them, but so far my favorite is Episode 4, in which we find out how God answers the billions of voicemails he gets every day.

Ethically good enough?

November 16, 2007

How do you measure “enough,” when it comes to ethical action? Today is my day off, and I’ve been spending it doing some things that I feel pretty good about—I hung my laundry to dry to save energy (and to lengthen the life of my clothes); I walked my recycling over to the local bulk pick-up bins; I’ve kept the heat turned off by sitting in the sun under a blanket as I read my library book (The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Equality, which is interesting but a mixed bag; see the review in Slate if you’re interested); I’m not driving anywhere today; I performed some “point and click” activism at The Animal Rescue site (use the tabs at the top to “click to give” to 6 different causes) and by responding to several “click to complain” emails from several national groups; I composted my tea bag.

Have I done “enough” today? I haven’t done anything to help the needy in my city; I’m still consuming more than my share of planetary resources and creating more than my share of pollution. If every American lived like me things would be better, environmentally; if everyone on Earth lived like me we’d be doomed.

The danger in knowing that we’re never doing enough is that we can use that as an excuse to stop doing any good. But it’s hard to hide from the fact that most of us could always be doing more. One answer is to be neither smug or defeatist, but to keep looking for ways to do more good. But it’s often hard for me to be that dispassionate.

How about you? When do you feel that you’re doing enough good? How do you stay motivated and positive?

1,000 eco-miles and counting

November 12, 2007

Update on the scooting life. My Scarabeo 50 and I have been together for over 1,000 miles. We have braved rain (I wear a cheap plastic 2-piece suit) and 40-degree weather (I wear several layers, including a big scarf). So far, so good. My only problem is that when it’s cold and I have the scarf around the lower half of my face, the faceplate on my helmet fogs up at stoplights. I try to breathe out of the side of my mouth, which helps, or I just raise the faceplate while I’m stopped, though this may not be safe if someone rear-ends me while I’m waiting for the light to turn.

As for safety, I have not had any incidents or scares and I feel that most drivers can see me well, even at night–actually, especially at night, due to the bright lights on the scooter. And after having the oil leak fixed (for free, since it’s still under warranty), my mileage seems to have gotten even better: I often go two weeks on one gallon of gas (90+ miles). And my partner, Bill, says I look cool–though that’s really the eyes of love. I am a small person and I have a very large helmet (I value my skull), so if you stuck a broom on the top I’d look just like Marvin the Martian. But that’s a small price to pay for helping the environment. Oh, and I now LOVE driving. What is it about wind rushing past that is so wonderful? Happy autumn!

Cards to soldiers

November 7, 2007

I’ve gotten some seasonal emails that suggest adding “A Recovering American Soldier” at Walter Reed to our holiday-card list, which I thought was a lovely idea. Turns out, though, that Walter Reed no longer accepts generic mail. See

This is obviously due to fear of anthrax, letter-bombs, etc. How very sad. The above link suggests some organizations that will send care packages to soldiers. So we can’t send a card but we can pay an organization $25 to send a package that we don’t even get to touch. It’s sure better than nothing, but what a strange world we live in.

Links for "Poetry of Witness" address

November 5, 2007

Last Sunday’s address is now up on our podcasts page. For those interested, here are some links to things I mentioned or read in it:
George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”
The Bhagavad-Gita, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller. Begin with paragraph 26.

From Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV, scene 1:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at
such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of

Mary Oliver’s poem “Lingering in Happiness” I can’t find online in a legal version, but it’s from her book Why I Wake Early.

Lastly, here’s my poem “If there are no frogs”:

If there are no frogs
when will I be a big girl?
teaching the little girls
to stalk with slow
cupped hands, to hold
without harm and discover
the bathing-capped skulls; the
eye-bowls; the lung-thin skin or
warm bark; the slight
life beating; the disgusting, hilarious,
yellow-green pee; the released spring.
How will little girls be brave
if they cannot kindly and proudly take
frogs from the waving fists of boys?

There have been reports
of frogs falling from clear skies.
They evolve, giant sperm
to tiny princes, raining
down and disappearing into the earth.
—It’s too late to kiss them;
they’ve already turned into men.

Restricting abortion access in Missouri

October 29, 2007

There is a new state law that seeks to restrict access to abortion in Missouri by requiring abortion providers to meet expensive and medically unnecessary standards. Please read’s article, featuring our own wonderful Allison Hile. And thank you again to our members who went out to Hope Clinic recently to be a peaceful shield between patients and those who seek to intimidate them. Most important, stay tuned for the results of the court challenge to the new law.


October 23, 2007

Apparently I shouldn’t tell you who told me about it, but if you’re local or visiting St. Louis, check out the new web site, which is dedicated to spreading the word about the fine art scene in St. Louis. Each week the site profiles openings and shows; so get out on these lovely crisp days and enjoy some inferior wine and cheese, and some of the superior talent of our city. I’ve often argued that art and ethics are intimately related in a society and in our individual lives, so I applaud the folks at art-patrol for helping enrich our community.

Iraqis in Crisis

October 19, 2007

Those who were luckier than me and got to hear last Sunday’s speaker, Kathy Kelly, gave her a standing ovation for her powerful words against the Iraq War and her experiences as a witness to the refugee crisis. The podcast of her talk is now up at Please listen and share it with others. You can find Kelly’s organization, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, on the web at The analyses of the current war funding bills are a must-read for every tax-paying American.

More good news?

October 10, 2007

Stephen Pinker has been studying the human history of violence, and he’s found that despite the bad news we hear about or experience every day, humanity is continuing to become less violent, and more cooperative and appreciative of diversity. There’s a 20-minute video of his presentation on violence at–as well as a lot of other interesting presentations. Watch it to give yourself a boost of optimism and hope, as well as to have a good answer when the Armageddonists come to your door.

Deed rather than creed

October 9, 2007

The online archives of the New York Times are now free to all. Those interested can read an article from 1879 titled “Deed Rather Than Creed” that details the activities of Adler and the early Ethical Movement.

Rebuttal to Hinduism platform, in new platform response forum

October 8, 2007

Our crack e-Committee has set up a forum,, where anyone may respond to and discuss the Sunday-morning talks posted on our web site. You may register or post anonymously.

With permission, I have just posted a very in-depth critical response to the platform on Hinduism that was given at the Ethical Society this summer, written by Ethical Society member Atish Sen. I urge anyone who attended or listened to the talk online to read Atish’s letter, and to respond in turn if you like, especially if you are knowledgeable about Hinduism.

I am very ignorant about the issues, so I cannot respond to them except to say that we invite a diversity of outside speakers to the Society, and that our inviting them does not constitute an endorsement of their views, particularly since we often don’t know quite what they’re going to say and/or are not experts in their fields. We are always open to speaker recommendations.

I’m grateful to Atish for taking the time to write his letter. I urge everyone to use the new forum to respond, challenge, or discuss any and all platform addresses.